Iraqi Sunnis protest government arrests

Raids by security forces kill one, renew fears of sectarianism

August 20, 2008|By Ned Parker and Usama Redha | Ned Parker and Usama Redha,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD - Predawn raids by elite Iraqi forces yesterday resulted in the fatal shooting of a government employee and the arrest of two prominent Sunni Arabs, according to witnesses and officials.

The troops were from the central government's counter-terrorism units, said Gov. Raad Rashid al-Tamimi of Diyala province, where the raid took place. They had stormed the governorate building in the city of Baqouba and arrested Sunni provincial council member Hussein al-Zubaidi, who belongs to the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Another raid led to the arrest of a prominent Sunni university dean.

Controversy swirled over who sent the troops on their mission. The unit, special forces referred to by detractors as the dirty squad, reports to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's counter-terrorism office. Spokesmen for al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, and the Defense Ministry denied that the prime minister had ordered the raids.

"These special forces work with the Americans. They are not associated with the Ministry of Defense," said ministry spokesman Mohammed Askari. "They have goals, and they didn't inform anyone else."

The special forces, long considered the most effective Iraqi military unit in the country, generally operate with U.S. military advisers and have been targeting both al-Qaida in Iraq and the Shiite Mahdi Army militia.

The U.S. military denied any involvement in the operation.

The special forces transferred to Iraqi operational control in 2007 after working with near independence under their U.S. advisers. Last spring, the group's commander Fadil Barwari, a veteran Kurdish officer, was brought before the parliament's national security committee, where members complained about the group's rough tactics, several lawmakers have told the Los Angeles Times.

The head of Iraq's national media center, Ali Hadi, denied that al-Maliki had ordered the raid and said the prime minister had called an investigation to find out what happened.

Witnesses said that more than 50 soldiers stormed the compound and rousted council members from their beds. The troops roughed up people, and the governor said they shot to death his secretary, Abbas Ali Hamood.

Hamood had asked the soldiers to identify themselves and to behave when the troops opened fire on him, said a building security officer, who identified himself as Capt. Saad.

Fighting broke out between Iraqi police and the soldiers, until commanders told the police to silence their weapons, security officials said. At least two civilians and four police were wounded in the shoot out, they added.

Separately, special forces also assaulted the house of the dean of Diyala's university, Nazar Jabar al-Khafaji, and led him away.

The surprise raid on the Baqouba governorate building came amid an Iraqi security crackdown in Diyala province that has targeted al-Qaida in Iraq. The Diyala region, with its mosaic of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, continues to be one of the more volatile areas and remains strategically important because it borders Baghdad.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni bloc in parliament, condemned the raid and demanded the truth about who ordered the arrests.

"Some said they are connected with the prime minister. ... Others said they are connected with higher authorities," said the bloc's spokesman Selim Abdullah. "We are awaiting the government's reply."

A senior Iraqi army officer who took part in the raid said troops carried arrest warrants for both the university president and the head of the security committee.

Al-Kafaji, the university president, was believed behind the assassination of professors, and al-Zubaidi was also suspected of a role in killings, the officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media.

Ned Parker and Usama Redha write for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, at least 4,144 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war.

Identifications

Sgt. James A. McHale, 31, Fairfield, Mont.; died July 30 at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, of wounds suffered July 22 in Taji when his vehicle struck an explosive; 40th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division; Baumholder, Germany.

Tech. Sgt. Jackie L. Larsen, 37, Tacoma, Wash.; died of natural causes July 17 at Balad Air Base; 9th Reconnaissance Wing; Beale Air Force Base, Calif.

Staff Sgt. David W. Textor, 27, Roanoke, Va.; died July 15 in Mosul of injuries in a vehicle incident; the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne); Fort Lewis, Wash.

Associated Press

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